By Erica Snowlake
The Beachhead is celebrating its 46th birthday this December, and a party for its 400th issue will take place at Beyond Baroque the first of February. I am fortunate to have written for the paper from 2006 – 2010, and consider that experience one of the highlights of my life. I’ve since become an ideological refugee, and organic gardener, in Canada (the Govt. squeezes the same, only Nature and Idle No More are gaining!).
Retaining ties to the Beachhead Collective, I recently spent 11 sun-blessed days in the Fair City, which passed bittersweetly, as the Spirit of Venice’s vibrancy and authenticity seemed to me, sorely set upon, by the same forces, throughout the years, that so many have actively engaged to resist : an unprecedented run-for-the-money. As I walked down Abbot Kinney, in shock at all the high-end clothing stores, a woman, accessorized-in-gold and sporting an immaculate tan, shot a victorious smile in my wake. On Rose Avenue, remnants of the dispossessed silently commiserated. Two sides of the same coin – ever-entangled – the haves and have-nots, existing in their prospective, peaking whammies of Rise and Fall; disproportional extremes, and sad follies of a system based on competition, greed, and cruelty. Where do you and I, and freedom, fit in?…. expressing ways out! swaying with the Venice Drum Orchestra, and the Drum Circle, watching sunsets on the beach, glorying in creative realities nobody can own. Does our comfort burn so brightly?!!!…that we are loathe to share?
Thank Heavens! the Beachhead’s still at the forefront, fighting the good fight, for social justice and equality (The Lady, as the Beat Poets affirmed, still exists!). In service of This Paper Is A Poem, former Beachhead collectivist Jim Smith and I are curating a project to record each issue in the online archives (www.freevenice.org). A totality of time-traveling fun! – scanning Beachheads of yore, page by page (some of the Seventies’ issues were 24 pages!), marveling at the scope of human endeavor and decades of organization, coalition and co-operation, evident in articles, letters, and listings of happenings and events, by the diverse groups and individuals who have dedicated themselves to unite their community / home (a particularly unique beacon of hope). This little paper (distribution 8,000 a month) is testament to the creativity and ingenuity of Venetians, to resist the mainstream, political and capitalist dogma, and racial and gender inequality, of our times, with humor, spirituality, and courage! The Muse remains sacred to the task! The Word burns!
From 1974, forty years ago, the headline “Should Venice Secede” demonstrated one of the hotter issues of the day. It was reported that, in a secession “investigation” at the Venice Pavilion, involving 100 people, “50 per cent were vehemently supportive of separating from greater Los Angeles, 40 per cent were inquisitive about the possibilities, about 10 per cent wanted to secede from California and/or the U.S., and the other 10 per cent were looking for the bathroom or didn’t know what secession meant.” The Seventies’ Beachheads featured “Dr. Zane’s Lobotomy Column” by Jim Zane (“A Monthly Column of Advice on All Subjects the Doctor Knows Absolutely Nothing About”), updates from the Peace and Freedom Party (founded in Venice by John Haag in 1967), Coastal Commission hearings, and the timely articles and comical rants of BH staff writer, Carol Fondiller, (“Invasion of the Afflu-Hip”,”Poop on Bike Path”, “Nude Beach : On Again Off Again”). Carol’s column Harpy Droppings was a staple of the paper for years. Antics of the people revolved around the canals, which were an undeveloped haven for hippies. The 5th Annual Venice Canal Festival, promised a “Saturnalia! of barges filled with drunken, stoned, and singing revelers, Hare Krishna food feasts, baroque music, and wares of all description.” Photos in the Beachhead express hedonistic, tribal pleasure; respite, perhaps, from impending evictions.
Portent of a sustained, loud cry against rampant development and burgeoning rents, the first VTC (Venice Town Council) meeting took place in November, 1974, at the Venice City Hall. A petition to Councilwoman Pat Russell stated that the residents of Venice “should not have to submit to their neighborhoods being remade according to the whims of the City of Los Angeles Engineers.” This also foreshadowed the beginning of a long and ferocious battle, spearheaded by the Beachhead, to replace Councilwoman Russell!
In August 1974, the paper paid tribute to poet Stuart Z. Perkoff, filling the entire back page with his poetry. The Venice Chapter of The Temple of Man offered daily, 24 hr. religious and civil services, including legalizing common-law marriages. Food Co-ops, Civic Unions, and Free Clinics made their debuts. Advertisements, bringing in much-needed revenue to cover printing costs, highlighted the Fox Theater, the Meat-less Mess-hall, the Comeback Inn, the Midnight Special Bookstore, and the Feminist Wicca (see Krista Schwimmer’s August 2014 interview with former owner Z. Budapest). My personal fave ad design, for the intrepid Sandalmaker, appears below.
Thirty years ago, January 1984, opened with the prophetic headline, “God is Dead and the World is Corrupt” by Alice Cramden. The Eighties’ issues often featured two pages of poetry, and resounded with articles about homelessness; “L.A. Shuns the Walking Wounded”, “The Homeless Economy”, while denouncing its cause; “The Resurgence of the Right”, “Venice Land-Rush Continues”. Cartoon grotesqueries of President Ronald Reagan and still-in-power-but-going-down-hard Russell provided comic relief (the saga of her political demise culminated in a red-inked Beachhead cover, March 1987.) The Ballona Wetlands were an important local environmental concern. There’s great interviews (I enjoyed one with Ken Kesey, who lived in Venice, 1960-61) and extensive coverage of news on the national and international level. Back pages of the Eighties issues featured a lifesize drawing of Thomas’ World Famous Chili Burger, at 108 Washington, where breakfasts cost 99 cents! The Fox Theater was still cranking counter-culture films (and where the Beachhead meetings took place).
Do past Beachheads tell the Boardwalk’s tale? Yes! it’s a hoot, and spans, well, nearly a century, if you consider it an extension of Abbot Kinney’s freakshow / circus carnival on Windward! I’d rightly call the Ocean Front Walk, Venice’s most holy expression, and one of the most interesting places on Planet Earth; an epic, living theater of rebellion, desire, jive, performance art and musical manifestation, of psychic power and invention, a people’s sanctuary-by-the-ever-changing-sea, a kaleidescope trip into the subconscious, that twists and writhes with beatific and horrific dreams and nightmares; ultimately, a place to be free. The forces that have been methodically and brutally targeting its demise, by harassing the very soul of its artists and defenders, are not worthy of the ink on this paper, though they have been duly noted and recorded. More thrilling is the legacy of all-who-have-laid-their-hearts-bare…..in bringing the phenomena to life and sustaining it.
It is known that places change, and sometimes, not-for-the-better. We must ride this oppression out. In the Nineties, things plain got too weird and paranoia set in, resulting in a Beachhead hiatus from 1993 onwards, until resurrection redeemed the paper in 2002. One gets the feeling, perceiving the continuity of the magic, gleaned in the Beachhead’s body of work since 1968, that Venice habitually pops open, like a psychedelic mushroom, to spread its irrepressible charm and message of communal, higher consciousness – Peace and Joy and Love. Don’t forget this. Delight in this fact / fate, and see if it doesn’t ring a bell. The Beachhead is a Moebius loop, a divine overview of history / herstory, that we have lived and created and continue to create together, reflecting an infinite crazy-eight of reality. Free Venice, symbol of a democratic republic, on land seeded by indigenous Gabrielino/Tongva visions, will find ways to endure. For now, as Jim Morrison sings in “The End”: “Ride the Snake!”……with its tale in its mouth!